Background: For those who aren’t familiar with the long-running story, basically, earlier this year it started to come to light that journalists at the News of the World, a tabloid newspaper in the UK (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp), had been systemically hacking the telephones of many celebrities, politicians and other high profile people and listening in to their private voicemail messages. The details came out gradually, but when it emerged that a reporter had hacked the phone of missing (later found murdered) school girl Milly Dowler, the story quickly turned into an international scandal.
The News of the World, 168 years in the business, was shut down by its owners, the hugely powerful Murdochs. A public inquiry was set up by the government to investigate this, and then to investigate the wider matters, which led to this week’s proceedings. The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press has been hearing witness statements from many of the victims of phone hacking and other people who suffered illegal or unethical activity by journalists.
This included earlier in the week the parents of the murdered girl Milly Dowler, and missing girl Madeleine McCann, actor Hugh Grant, actress Sienna Miller, former head of Formula One motor sport Max Mosley and J.K. Rowling, among others.
Jo’s testimony before Lord Justice Leveson revealed the extent to which some areas of the press intruded on her and her family’s lives following her sudden rise to fame. While Jo rightly pointed out that she believes “very strongly in the freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and there is truly heroic journalism in Britain”, here are some quotes and summaries of the more damning and disgusting evidence she gave:
- She and her family were forced to leave their home due to constant hounding by journalists, making privacy impossible. Her street name had also been published for the world to see.
- JKR: “It was a shock to me to become very well known, it happened to me very quickly, and no one gives you a guidebook”
- A journalist once placed a letter to Jo into her daughter’s bag in her first year of primary school, when she was only 5 years old. Jo said, “I felt such a sense of invasion of my daughter’s bag, it’s difficult to say how angry I felt”
- When she and her family were on holiday abroad, the were relaxing on a beach they had been led to believe was private. They spotted a boat in the sea and subsequently photographs appeared in magazines, papers and online, of her and children on this beach. She described how a photo of her daughter in her swimsuit “spread like a virus” across the internet and these took months to get taken down.
- JKR spoke about a time two journalists from a Scottish tabloid took up residence in a car outside her house. When her PR firm asked them what they wanted, they just said: “It’s a boring day in the office”.
- Her daughter was “characterised as a bully” when stories were fabricated claiming she told school friends that Harry dies in Deathly Hallows. A journalist had phoned the school’s head teacher pretending the parent of a child there, and saying Jo’s daughter was causing distress to other pupils.
- In 2005 the Mirror newspaper published street names and photos of the Rowlings’ family homes.
- JKR: “The twist in the stomach when you wonder what do they want and what do they think they’ve got. It’s threatening to have people watching you.”
- She described how she lost faith in the Press Complaints Commission to deal with these problems.
- She said she wanted her addresses to remain private because she has been the target of “unbalanced individuals”. “My desire is not because I’m being starry or precious, it’s because on a number of occasions the police have been involved because of incidents or threats – I think it’s reasonable to wish the paper would refrain from making my whereabouts so obvious.
- JKR: “It only takes three or four papers to publish some information and you’ve got a guided tour to my house,”
- JKR: “I can’t put an invisibility cloak over myself or my home,”
- She was a victim of the illegal practice of “blagging” when a journalist phoned her pretending to be a post office worker, trying to get her address.
- Jo’s partner (now husband) was conned by a journalist into thinking he was talking to tax authorities, and handed over all his personal details to them
- She had to get a court injunction when one the Harry Potter books was leaked.
- An article was once published falsely claiming that Jo based an unpleasant HP character (Lockhart) on her ex-husband. These stories were distressing for her daughter, who’s father is the ex-husband. Jo had to have difficult conversations with her daughter as a result. She said this caused “real emotional hurt” and ”It portrayed me as a vindicative person who would use a book to vilify anyone with whom I had a grudge.”
- One Sunday Mirror article once claimed that Jo’s husband had given up his job as a doctor to ”be at beck and call of his obscenely rich wife”.
- She wrapped up with ”I can’t pretend I have a magical answer”.
The whole of Jo’s witness statement is available to read here, and you can rewatch the afternoon hearings here (Jo swears in at 58 minutes). The BBC have also got two short snippets that you view here and here.
We hope the evidence Jo gave, as well as all the other witnesses, can be used to help clean up the British press and get some justice for everything they’ve been through.